Most Sundays, I publish the Sunday Lesson. It’s little more than an observation or an idea or a study I’m working on that has useful applications. I say ‘little more’ but we all know how life changing these observations can be. I feel deeply blessed and deeply responsible writing this. I schedule the posts to publish at 1:35 after you’re home from church. On the east coast, anyway. Or if your memory works like mine, you can sign up for notification to be alerted when I post something. I’m game for all comments and try to respond to them all. Be forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re growing into. So, if I don’t respond, I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.
In every lesson’s header, I observe my observing and write about how I write about small observations in my reading and study. There. Let the grammar checkers have that one! I planned to write about Jesus descending the transfiguration – we all know what happens as He ascends and at the top – but what about when He comes down? But now, as I sat down, I see my thoughts fitting into a larger theme.
To start: there are good books about the transfiguration, and there should be. Big books with big words and lots of notes. I love these kinds of books. From just this kind of book, I read about how Jesus coming down from the mountain with an angry scowl would speak volumes to any Jew versed in the story of Moses.
What struck me, though, was something not nearly as lofty. But…maybe more life-changing.
Imagine the scene. Jesus is on the mountain with three disciples. Not just fishing pals but people He intends to carry on His work. On the mountaintop, Jesus’s appearance changes to blinding white while he talks with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Peter – his rapier-sharp mind always working – cries out, “Hey! This is great! How ‘bout we make you guys tents so we can all stay awhile?!”
Jesus doesn’t answer, but G does: This is My son. The three lackeys fall on their faces until they hear Jesus’s voice and feel His tap on their shoulders. “Stand up,” He says. “Don’t be afraid.” They look around, and the world is back to normal. Jesus is hot and sweaty, and Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus and the three trudge down the mountain, and Jesus warns them to keep these events secret. At the hill’s bottom, it’s back to work: healing, chiding, encouraging, and loving. It’s never-ending.
And that’s the key I saw: it’s never-ending. And by never-ending, I mean there’s no start nor stop.
Jesus never cordons off churchy, prayery, preachy time from washing feet, laughing with friends, or sharing a meal. They’re one and the same. It’s all serving and enjoying the Father.
We – I – tend to make categories and fit ourselves and others into them. Mostly we do this so we can feel better about ourselves, show people how great we are, and elevate our egos.
Mary and Martha
I’ve written before about Martha and Mary, and how Mary ‘chose the better part’ and how I want to sit with her and not Martha. Reading about the transfiguration, though, I think I was wrong. I was making a category that isn’t there: that Mary was spiritual, and Martha was a dud. Jesus shows through His life that there is no higher and lower calling, and if there is a higher calling, it’s to grovel and help those who can’t help back. As in so many things in scripture, there is a tension here that we have to concurrently hold: Jesus said that while He is there – here? – that it’s time for partying and feasting. There’ll be plenty of time for fasting when He’s gone…
If I lean hard into Augustine’s words – that all truth is G’s truth – then I have to argue that preaching, writing, fixing the kitchen sink, and driving my daughter to swim have similar meanings before the Father. It’s only my limited understanding and humanness that partitions off what I think is holy and sacred.
A change of mind
So, I’ve changed my mind on this or at least expanded my self-imposed, human-centered limitations. Instead of seeing church and leading worship and studying Greek tenses as something different than nailing a wall or cleaning floors, I am learning to see them as the same in the sense of what is sacred. They are all things to do for the Father in a spirit of grace and compassion and constant prayer.
And wouldn’t you guess it? This quote arrived in my email just as I was writing the lesson. From Christoph Blumhardt in his book Action in Waiting.
Nowadays, unfortunately, many things are done with the idea that the more spiritual and otherworldly we are, the better. But it is just the other way around. The more we learn to seek truth and to act on it as far as possible in the situation in which God has placed us, even if that be in the dirt, the better it is. For the Savior does not want to come as an idea but as a reality, wherever people live and struggle.
As a not-very-satisfying explanation, I co-attend a Southern Baptist church and my local rock-and-roll multi-site church. I’m comfortable with Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and all kinds of Protestant thought. I even read some of the so-called atheists. For Bibles, I use the Jerusalem Bible, the English Standard Version, and the Amplified Bible. My newest favorite is The Message. Get yourself a copy if you can. If you need one, send me an email. A favorite verse is Micah 6:8 where the prophet says:
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor. Be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.